CAT hosts Bristol Schumacher Conference 2010: Zero Carbon Britain – from Aspiration into Action.

“In the shadow of economic globalisation, an extraordinary variety of creative voices have emerged to challenge and reverse the dominant trends.”

On 16th October 2010 delegates from the European Environment Agency, Good Energy and the Centre for Alternative Technology will lead a day of lectures, workshops and discussion on the most pressing issue of our time – the need for a transition to a zero carbon Britain.

Britain has the potential, skills and natural resources to lead the world in carbon reduction. Join in workshop discussions with Paul Allen (CAT), Eugenie Harvey (10:10), Prof. Peter Reason (University of Bath), Victor Anderson (WWF), Jean Boulton (Sustain), Mark Gater and others.

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Become part of the solution. Put the date in your diary!

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Hummingbird hawk moths, metamorphosis and teenagers. Our resident nature watcher has some observations about them all


by Rennie Telford
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Several impressive looking Hawkmoths have been seen around site including the exotically named Hummingbird Hawkmoth, so called because of its habit of hovering in front of flowers to feed producing an audible hum. They are day flying moths and you can also sometimes see them hovering in front of walls on a sunny day but I’m not sure why they do this. Most species of Hawkmoth caterpillars are quite fearsome looking specimens, most have a curved horn-like appendage on their rear end and large flattened faces.

Which brings us to the quite miraculous subject of metamorphosis –one of the great marvels of the natural world. Caterpillars are so completely different in appearance from the adult form they will eventually develop into, it is difficult to believe they are the same creature –they are basically feeding machines (they spend around 12 hours a day feeding)– to fuel their adult form through the vital reproductive stage. When ready, they wrap themselves in a cocoon or bury themselves underground and this amazing transformation takes place where they sort of liquidise themselves and develop all the organs and features of the adult and emerge as a perfectly formed and beautiful moth or butterfly.

To get to grips with this amazing process, imagine that human babies were born looking like seals and spent their first 12 years in this form and then climbed into a sack, hung themselves from the ceiling, emerging a year later as a fully formed human! Mind you there have been times when it would have seemed an excellent idea to have stuck one of my children in a sack, hoping they might re-appear as fully formed adults (when they were around 15 or 16 I seem to recall).

Ideas, solutions, ACTION! Campaigning courses at CAT in November.

Two inspirational courses running at CAT this November explore the ideas, solutions and action needed to tackle climate change. The People Power course runs over the weekend 5th – 7th November and looks at the methods behind grassroots campaigning, taking your campaign ideas to the next level. The Climate Crisis course from November 9th to 14th provides in-depth understanding of the climate debate needed to develop coherant, sophisticated campaigns.

Climate Campaign against drilling for oil in tar sands

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Naycher Korner Tackles the Tricky Subject of Insect Genitalia

Rennie writes…A brief dissertation today on the subject of insect and arachnid legs and insect genitalia. This train of thought was brought about by Christine’s invitation to accompany her to the ladies toilet outside top station ( an offer I obviously could not refuse). Here we discovered those fragile looking spider like creatures which flatten themselves on walls and doors as if stuck on with glue. On counting the legs to ascertain whether they were insects or arachnids (insects always have 6 legs, spiders 8 ) this particular specimen had 7! It was in fact one of several species of Harvestman which although spider-like are only distantly related.

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They get their name because the adults appear in late summer. They often sacrifice a leg if attacked by a predator and can get along quite happily with one or two missing. Incidentally, if you watch a beetle or other insect walking you will notice that they proceed in a zig-zag fashion, because they move two legs on one side and one on the other which has the effect of tilting their body first in one direction and then the other. Oh yes, insect genitalia — there are over 5000 different species of fly in Britain alone and most of them are practically impossible to tell apart even to an expert. The only way to distinguish them is to dissect their genitalia, because amazingly the male and female bits fit together like a lock and key and one species key won’t fit another’s lock! And no, I haven’t the faintest idea how you go about dissecting a flies bits and pieces– but if anyone would like to borrow my ‘Boy’s Own Bumper Book of Insect Genitalia’ for a bit of bed time reading you are welcome.

Naycher Korner

Rennie writes…..Grace ( who works in CAT’s biology department) was fortunate enough to witness the exciting spectacle of a Sparrowhawk making a kill on site yesterday. It raided the bird feeders by the smallholding and snatched a siskin from one of the feeders. A sparrowhawk often makes speculative visits to the Cabin’s feeders as well but I have not actually see it catch anything yet. They are opportunistic hunters, using hedges and trees as cover and suddenly appearing as if out of nowhere–their prey rarely hear them coming and surprise is everything. With their relatively shortish wings they are able to weave in and out of woodland with amazing maneuverability, but chases are swift and short and if they don’t succeed in catching their quarry quickly, will disappear as suddenly as they came. When they do make a kill they can be remarkably tenacious and bold — I remember seeing one at home that had grabbed a chaffinch from the bird table and although I was only feet away from it, it stood its ground and glared balefully at me before flying off with its meal. Naturally enough bird tables and feeders are now one of its most favoured killing grounds and although rather distressing to see birds taken like that, it is after all only doing what sparrowhawks do and after years of relentless persecution by us, it is great to see them around. Incidentally, one of the Welsh names for it is Corwalch–Little Hawk–which is probably a reference to the marked difference in size between the sexes–the male is considerably smaller than the female (although just as fierce), in fact the size variation is probably the greatest of any British bird.

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Site Community and Open Day

It’s all go in site community this Summer… for the last few weekends the cottage area of site has been opened up for visitors to come by and take a look at what is going on. The community at CAT started in 1975 when a group of people disillusioned by modern day living and concerned by what they saw as a looming environmental crisis moved to the abandoned slate quarry that is now known as CAT.  Over the years, the hard work and enthusiasm of 1000’s of people has meant that the quarry has transformed into a  fertile oasis with abundant flowers, fruits, vegetables and tree’s. Although CAT has expanded and grown there is still a living community here at CAT.  It is  home to 16 people including three children and three cats ( of the feline variety) who live in a variety of different houses, from renovated old slate cottages to eco-buildings, tried and tested at CAT.

Chris, Carlos and Mary tread the clay, whilst Neru wathes on
Chris, Carlos and Mary tread the clay, whilst Neru watches on

The site community residents aim to put into practice the ethos of CAT through sustainable low impact living. All the houses are very well insulated, water is heated through a combination of wood burners and solar water heaters. Wood also provides heating for the houses. The community aims to reduce it’s carbon footprint by sharing resources such as washing machines etc   buying food together and putting into practice sustainable low impact living. As well  environmental sustainability the community is also concerned with sustaining ourselves as a community. All the decisions about the community are made through  consensus decision making process in which all residents are involved. Regular meals together and work days are also important elements of community life.

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The new community kitchen

As well as the weekend tours this summer,  residents of site community are also working on their amazing new kitchen. The building dubbed ‘mini WISE’ as it is in the shadow of the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education is a timber frame, straw bale building with a hemp and lime render on the outside and clay inside. The kitchen is going to provide much needed cooking and eating space for the site community and long and short term volunteers who come and stay at CAT.

Architecture Students find inspiration in WISE at this years professional diploma summer school.

This week the new WISE building at CAT has been buzzing with architecture students, all working on their final projects.  We took the opportunity to go and quiz them about what they are doing and how their course is going.

The WISE was alive with creative energy, paper covering the studio floors, cardboard models and sketchbooks spread out across the tables, the huge windows were filling the airy rooms with light, connecting and framing the woods and mountains around CAT.

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Naycher Korner

I was tempted to write a blog about the dragonfly’s mating habits ( look it up!) but I thought instead I would tell you about a charming little incident that happened yesterday. A visitor to CAT from London had spotted an adult wren with three or four young scuttling around in that mouse like way they have, in the undergrowth below the trees just behind the self-build house and had taken some really lovely photos of them, including one of the female in the act of feeding one of them with an insect. He took me to show me where he had seen them and they were still there and for a few magic moments we were able to watch at really close quarters as the parent bird seemed to be not only feeding her young but also teaching them how to forage for themselves. They appeared to be quite oblivious to our presence and to the fact that crowds of people were milling around the area – which is one of the wren’s endearing traits – they don’t seem to be confident and bold like a robin for instance–they just seem to completely disregard you. This was almost certainly the females second brood ( the male is a bit of a Lothario and takes no part in the care of his offspring — he is off siring another couple of broods with another female) This is particularly pleasing as the hard winter we had has really taken its toll on our wren population — but they are great survivors and with multiple broods of around six young and the present plethora of insects, hopefully their numbers will bounce back. They have several survival strategies to help them endure sub zero temperatures, one of which is to abandon their normal solitary life style in cold winters and to huddle up together in empty nest boxes and crevices in groups of 12 to 20 or more overnight. Lovely optimistic little birds as well,you are likely to hear their piercing song any day of the year. wren

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